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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

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Hey Siri, I’m Feeling Anxious: Apps for Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

There seems to be an app for everything these days. Smartphones have become like little pocket genies – your wish is its command. Whether you want a date, a ride, or help with a physical or mental health concern, your smartphone claims to have you covered. 

Recently, there has been a surge in apps claiming to help calm anxiety. Some offer mood tracking, others offer guided breathing and meditation, still others allow you to track your thoughts, claiming to utilize CBT methods to help you reframe unhelpful ideas. While technology can be a powerful tool, it’s important to think critically about how we use it and the effect it can have before we rely on it too heavily.

What does the data say about anxiety apps?

Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of the ADAA recently published a study conducted to assess commercially available anxiety apps. Researchers analyzed 52 anxiety/worry relief apps that purportedly use psychological techniques. They discovered that 67.3% of the apps were developed without any input from a healthcare professional, and only 3.8% of them had been rigorously tested.

So the people developing anxiety apps may not actually know much about anxiety, and they almost certainly don’t know if their app will really help you.

Authors of the study concluded that while apps have the potential to broaden access to mental health resources, there is currently a major lack of data regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the available options. As such, the application space has yet to reach its full potential in helping people with anxiety.

What if an anxiety app is helping me?

Of course, the issue here is a lack of data. You may have found an anxiety app that does help you to manage your worry throughout the day. Guided meditations, breathing exercises, and journaling our thoughts and feelings can certainly be useful.

Should I ask Siri or a professional?

However, an app does not replace professional treatment. If you are dealing with anxiety that is impairing your ability to function in your day to day life, it’s important to seek professional guidance.

Human connection is important for our mental health.

Furthermore, while apps may one day prove to be a useful anxiety management tool, they will never replace the human connection that takes place in the context of therapy. In fact, it is actually the therapeutic relationship itself that is the most important aspect of therapy – it accounts for around 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is significantly more than any other factor, including the specific techniques used by the therapist (like CBT or mindfulness). This means that who your therapist is, how you relate to them, and the relationship you share is the most helpful part of therapy. An app will never be able to offer this relationship.

Technology may help us manage anxiety, but it may also be a source of anxiety.

Finally, when considering anxiety apps, it is important to note that according to the APA, smartphone use has been linked to higher stress levels, particularly in those who check their phones constantly.

Given the rapid development of technology and its ever broadening influence in our lives, it is important that we stay curious and aware of the potential it has to both help and hinder us, particularly when it comes to something as important as our mental health.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change. Stress in America™ Survey.

Sucala, M., Cuijpers, P., Muench, F., Cardos, R., Soflau, R., Dobrean, A., Achimas-Cadariu, P., & David, D. (2017). Anxiety: There is an app for that. A systematic review of anxiety apps. Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of ADAA, 34(6). 518-525. 

 

5 Myths About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

By Trevor McDonald
edited by Annabelle Parr

People are talking about mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, more often and more openly. Social media and access to digital content has helped facilitate the conversation. However, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and while easy access to content can help reduce shame, stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness, it can also spread mistruths and foster outdated myths. This hurts those who suffer from mental illnesses as well as those trying to understand and support them. So let’s clarify some things about anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common American mental illness, affecting 40 million adults – 18% of the population. Despite this substantial figure, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that only 33 percent of those suffering will receive treatment.

Anxiety is a blanket term. We all know what it feels like to feel anxious. But when we talk about anxiety as a mental illness, we may be referring to any number of disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder to panic disorder to a specific phobia. Though all of these things fall under “anxiety,” each manifestation looks and feels a bit different.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be treated. Having a supportive network that includes mental health professionals and ideally, understanding loved ones, is critical. The first step toward encouraging and facilitating treatment is dispelling myths and providing education for both those struggling with anxiety and the people around them. Here are five of the biggest myths about anxiety disorders:

1. “You don’t really have anxiety. Everyone gets anxious/nervous!” Of course, everyone feels anxious or stressed sometimes. But according to the DSM V, when someone has an anxiety disorder, they feel excessively anxious about a number of things more often than not, and it significantly impairs their ability to function in a major area of their life. We must understand that there is a big difference between feeling anxious about a particular event or challenge, and feeling the chronic anxiety that comes with an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, it’s important not to toss around statements such as “I’m so OCD” when all we mean is that we like our desk organized. Minimizing an anxiety disorder in these ways undermines the challenge that something like generalized anxiety disorder or OCD can pose to people who are struggling with them.

2.  “You can get over anxiety with yoga, taking a walk, or meditation.” While taking a holistic approach to wellness is smart, and such activities can help with the symptoms of anxiety, taking a yoga class won’t “cure” an anxiety disorder any more than it will spina bifida. Though it can be tempting to offer advice to try to help those struggling with anxiety, it’s important not to minimize their experience or assume that you have a solution to offer them. Only a mental health professional should be offering any kind of “prescription” or suggestion for treatment.

3. “Anxiety means a person is weak, or they must have had a really bad childhood.” The former is never true; the latter could be part of the foundation for an anxiety disorder, though this is certainly not always the case. Trauma can kick start an anxiety disorder, but it’s not the only source. A big reason people with mental illnesses don’t talk about their condition is because they don’t want to be seen as weak or feeble, even though they’re not. It takes tremendous strength to live with any disorder. Invisible disabilities can be especially trying because people can’t “see” the disorder a person is battling.

4. “Anxiety isn’t that big of a deal.” Everything is relative. Anxiety disorders exist on a spectrum. If you know someone with anxiety, you can’t gauge how severe their disorder is. But unless you are a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor, it’s not your job to gauge the severity of someone else’s anxiety. What you need to know is that anxiety is a big deal to the person suffering from it, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Further, unlike a broken leg, anxiety can’t be seen on the outside.  So someone may appear perfectly put together on the outside, but is suffering in silence on the inside.

5. “I won’t be able to relate to someone with anxiety.” This myth is usually based on a person’s fear that they won’t know what to say when someone is struggling with anxiety. It’s human nature to want to “fix” things, but anxiety can’t be fixed that easily, especially by a non-professional. Remember that it’s not your job to “fix” someone’s anxiety or make it go away. All they really need from you is empathy. And listening well is far more important than knowing what to say. So when talking to someone with anxiety, let them lead the conversation, don’t judge them, and don’t try to fix it. Let them know that you want to understand and that you hear that they are struggling.  You might also offer to help them connect with professional help.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of anxiety disorders. Psychological research has given us a solid understanding of anxiety and how to treat it effectively. Of course, there is always more to learn, but now the bulk of our work lies in sharing our understanding with the community and eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Working to un-learn false claims and myths of the past is a big step in the right direction. Doing your part to educate yourself and others will make a big difference in the lives of everyone with an anxiety disorder.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Most Americans Are Stressed About the Future of Our Nation

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Have you found yourself feeling especially anxious or stressed out in the current political climate? You’re not alone. This particular election and transition of power is unique for many reasons, not least of which is the widespread stress it is creating in Americans across the political spectrum.

According to the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, two-thirds of Americans report feeling stress regarding the future of our nation.

This stress is bipartisan.

Prior to the election, stress may have been divided more along party lines. Back in August, Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs 26 percent) to feel stress regarding the outcome of the presidential election. However, according to the most recent study conducted in January, 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress.

Overall stress levels have increased since the election.

In the ten years since the inception of the Stress in America survey, Americans’ stress levels had been gradually decreasing. However, between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ average reported stress level increased from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 represents no stress and 10 represents enormous stress. This was the first statistically significant increase in stress since the survey began 10 years ago.

We are not the first cohort to feel stressed about the future of our country.

It is important to remember that this APA survey has only been conducted for the last decade, and to keep in perspective that our country has been through numerous tumultuous and stressful times. We are not the first group of citizens to be very stressed and concerned for America’s future. History shows us that we have inevitably and cyclically encountered dark times as a nation, and that hopefully, after each struggle, we emerge stronger and maybe a little bit wiser and more just.

However, currently we are very much in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty. We are deeply stressed, and we are not alone in that experience. There is comfort to be found in the “me too,” but it is also important that together we learn to find balance during this time.

How do we manage our stress?

Engaging in democracy.

One of the beautiful things about our country is that we are part of a democracy, where we are empowered to use our voices to speak up regarding those things that do concern us. In order to properly voice our concerns, it is important that we use our access to information to stay informed about what is going on. (However, we must also recognize when we need to disconnect. More on the importance of limiting our information intake below).

One way to try to assuage the stress we feel is to use it as fuel for action. We can spend a few minutes calling our local representatives and communicating our concerns. We can get involved volunteering for or donating to an organization whose efforts are in line with our values. We can participate in protests or marches to literally stand up for the things that are important to us. There is something very empowering about engaging in community and collective action with other Americans who share our views.

Regardless of our political views and beliefs, our stress seems to be collective. The details of our concerns may differ, but we all have the opportunity to use our voices and engage in the future of the nation.

Finding a balance between staying engaged and allowing ourselves to disconnect.

However, as much as it is important to stay engaged, we must also recognize the limits as to what we can do to help foster change. When we come together, we are strong. But individually, we cannot carry the weight of the nation on our shoulders. And as we work to remain informed, it is also important that we allow ourselves the time and space away from news.

Limiting technology and news consumption.

Between all of our technological devices, 24-hour news cycles, and politically saturated Facebook news feeds, we could allow our eyes and minds to be occupied all day long by the constant, stress-inducing updates. We need to limit our news consumption in order to allow our minds and bodies to rest. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the news will leave us feeling powerless.

Practicing self-care.

Maybe the most important thing that we can do at this time of great national stress is to take care of ourselves. Self-care is vital to our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. And if you have felt that your nation (or perhaps its commander in chief) has failed to care for you, or sent you the message that you are unworthy of care, maybe your greatest act of protest and defiance will be to choose to take care of yourself in spite of this.

Self-care will not fix the national situation, of course. However, wouldn’t it be powerful to have a nation filled with citizens who know how to care for their own well-being, and as a result they have the energy to stay engaged in their democracy?

How can we practice self-care?

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Good self-care is unique to each individual. What is relaxing and healing for one person may not be as helpful to another. It’s important to pay attention to those things, those rituals, that calm and center us. That signal to our psyche a time of rest or peace. Here are some ideas to help inspire you:

  1. Set aside some time to walk each day and focus on breathing the fresh air in your lungs and feeling the ground under your feet with each step.
  2. Practice yoga.
  3. Find a mindfulness meditation to practice every day. This doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. Check out this link for some suggestions: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
  4. Not a fan of meditation? Try focusing on your breathing. Take a minute to practice some mindful breaths. Check out our blog post on breathing for some tips: http://www.anxietytherapysandiego.com/blog/2016/6/8/the-power-of-breathing
  5. Turn off your devices. Allow yourself to unplug entirely. Maybe consider deactivating your automatic news updates, or deleting the Facebook app from your phone. Set limits on your news consumption by mapping out a given time to check the news each day.
  6. Find time for humor. Is there a show that makes you smile or laugh? Laughter is healing and helps relieve stress.
  7. Spend time with loved ones. Share your experiences and your feelings, but also make sure to find time to talk about things unrelated to the current political situation. It’s healing to talk with others who feel the same way that we do and to know that we are not alone. But it is also important to have fun and to remember that we can still enjoy the sweet things in life even when there are reasons to be concerned.

In conclusion,

In order to manage the stress that so many of us are feeling, seek balance. This means finding ways to be proactive about the things that you can change or that you have control over, but also accepting the things that are beyond your control. And in the midst of it all, remember to take care of yourself in the ways that work best for you.

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the stress or anxiety that you feel, and you need some extra help, a therapist can help you to process your feelings. They can give you a space to feel heard, which in itself can be healing and empowering. They can help give you tools to manage your stress so that it doesn’t leak into other areas of your life or prevent you from leading a healthy day-to-day. Sometimes the best form of self-care is knowing when we need to reach out for external support.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

(2017, Feb. 15). Many Americans stress about future of our nation, new APA Stress in American survey reveals. Retreived from: http://apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx

HOW TO SLEEP BETTER WITHOUT SPENDING ANY $$$ ON SLEEP MEDICATION

Jill Stoddard

a guest blog repost by Alisa Palioni

Do you often find yourself lying awake at night, staring at your alarm clock as it ticks away the time? Or, do you wake regularly during the night, leaving you feeling as if you haven’t slept at all?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half the population reports suffering from at least one symptom of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, waking up too early, and waking up feeling unrested).

Many of your daily habits likely play a bigger role in your nightly struggles than you think. Both our ability to fall asleep, and the quality of sleep we have are highly dependent on a variety of external and internal stimuli.

Learning about how each activity impacts your sleep patterns can help you make changes and finally get a good night’s rest.

1. Exercise

Why An Exercise Routine Helps Regulate Sleep

Body heat: Part of the natural changes our circadian rhythm brings about over the day are changes in body temperature.

The rise and fall of our body temperature associated with exercise mimics the natural fluctuations which lead up to sleep.

This can be enough to gently nudge your circadian rhythms back into ideal synchronization if exercise is performed at the right time of day. 1

Beneficial stressor: Exercise is a “beneficial stressor” in that it activates sympathetic nervous system (our flight-or-fight response). Your body compensates by increasing the time spent in deep sleep - leaving you feeling more rested. 

Decrease stress, anxiety and depression: Many of us experience difficulty falling asleep due to ruminating thoughts related to real or perceived stress.

Exercise has been scientifically proven to reduce reactivity to stressors, so that we are better able to manage stressful situations when they come our way.

It has likewise proven itself to be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 2

What Kind Of Exercise Should I Do?

When it comes to improving your quality of sleep, aerobic exercise wins. Numerous studies have documented the efficacy of regular aerobic exercise programs for treating chronic insomnia. 

Aerobic exercises (“with oxygen”) include any that involve sustained activity which requires the body to consume large amounts of oxygen, such as walking, swimming and biking.

Whereas, weight training and sprinting are anaerobic exercises. While an important component of a healthy lifestyle, these activities are not effective for promoting sleep. 3

What Time Of Day Should I Exercise?

While fitting in exercise whenever feasible for your lifestyle can go a long way towards improving your sleep, studies have shown that exercising in the late afternoon or early evening has the greatest impact.

The reason for this relates back to how exercise promotes better sleep: In order to take advantage of the drop in body temperature you’ll want to complete your workout approximately 3-5 hours before bedtime.

How Long Should I Exercise?

While exercising for 15-45 minutes daily is the optimal duration; however studies have shown that 150 mins/week is sufficient to see improvements in quality of sleep up to 60%.

2. Diet

Your diet impacts your sleep through more means than just providing calories: What we eat and when we eat it can enhance or inhibit our sleep.

Foods That Inhibit Sleep

While some foods are well known for their ability to interfere with sleep, other dietary staples are equally responsible for keeping you up at night.

1. Coffee: Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours: which means that 10 hours after drinking your coffee, 25% left in your system; and 20 hours later 12.5% of the caffeine still remains.10

So, while an early afternoon coffee as a post-lunch pick-me-up may seem like a good idea, it might be what is keeping you up at night.

2. Alcohol: Alcohol is a little more tricky in how it affects sleep; because it causes drowsiness many mistakenly believe that a drink can serve as a sleep-aid.

However, research has shown that while alcohol increases slow-wave sleep during the first half of the night, it actually leads to an increase in sleep disruptions during the second half. 4

3. Chocolate: Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can contain high levels of caffeine and thus needs to be treated similarly to coffee and other caffeinated beverages. 

In general try to avoid any kind of sweets in the evening though since it will not only improve your sleep but your overall health as well.

4. Spicy Foods: Capsaicin - the molecule which gives your spicy foods that kick - can causes changes in body temperature that can cause a disturbance in your circadian rhythms if consumed late at night.

5. High-Fat Foods: We all know that certain unhealthy fats negatively impact our health; but there’s also evidence that they may be keeping you up at night.

Animal studies have shown that high-fat diets are associated with more fragmented sleep, along with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Researchers speculate that this may be linked to the neuro-chemical orexin -- which plays an integral role in our sleep-wake cycles. Rats who were fed high-fat diets showed a decrease in orexin-sensitivity. 5

Foods That Promote Sleep

There are many foods that are lauded for their ability to promote a better, more restful sleep. These are the key components you want to be on the lookout for when planning your bedtime snack:

1. Magnesium and potassium: One of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency is insomnia, so you’ll want to load up on healthy sources of this mineral such as leafy greens, beans and lentils, and bananas. 6

Magnesium and potassium promote muscle relaxation, and thus not only help you feel more comfortable but can help deal with nighttime leg cramps.

2. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino-acid found in both animal and plant proteins. Our bodies use tryptophan to create serotonin -- a neurotransmitter involved in both mood regulation and sleep cycles.15

Many foods are great natural sources of tryptophan, such as milk, bananas, peanut butter and walnuts.

3. B Vitamins: B vitamins are essential for both the synthesis and release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones that are part of the sleep-wake cycle: such as serotonin and melatonin.

Supplements are often prescribed to treat restless-leg-syndrome - a nighttime movement disorder which significantly disrupts sleep.

However, there’s no need to take a supplement. You can get your fill from legumes (chick peas), dark green vegetables, whole grains and fish. 7

4. Theanine: Theanine is yet another useful amino acid when it comes to treating sleep disorders. Research has shown that administering a theanine supplement improves sleep quality and increases sleep efficiency, while decreasing nighttime awakenings.

There is one superfood packed with theanine: Green tea. However, while green tea has significantly less caffeine than a cup of joe, it is recommended to opt for the decaffeinated kind if your goal is a good night’s sleep. 8

5. Melatonin: Melatonin is naturally produced by your pineal gland under direction of your circadian rhythms and is what makes us feel sleepy as we near bedtime.

It usually begins to release around 9 p.m. and remains at a high level for the next 12 hours, throughout the night into the next morning.

While there are certain foods that contain melatonin, you can also purchase this essential sleep-inducing hormone in capsules at your local pharmacy or health food store.

Taken at the right time of day, and in the right dosage, melatonin supplements can help reset your biological clock to optimal levels and is often used as a natural treatment for sleep disorders.19

However, you don’t need to take supplements: simply add tart fruits, like cherries and pineapples, to your diet. Oats, walnuts and bananas are likewise great natural sources of melatonin.

Here are some more foods that will help you to sleep better.

via    Well+Good

Timing Your Meals

It’s not just what you eat, when you eat also counts.

Research at Yale’s School of Medicine has revealed just how vital the timing of our meals is to maintaining optimal circadian rhythms.

For instance, when we wake in the morning and our central clock is being stimulated by the light of day, but we decide to skip breakfast we have just given our body conflicting information that can in turn disrupt our circadian rhythms. 9

The main takeaway from this study and similar research is that you should not be eating close to your intended bedtime; but the recommendations for how long before bed you should refrain from eating vary: some saying not to eat after 7 pm, while others suggest 5 hours before lights-out and still others indicate a minimum of 12 hours before you eat breakfast. 

It’s also recommended to reserve large meals for the first half of your day, and consuming lighter snacks in the evening.

3. Environment

Mattress & Pillows

When it comes to choosing a mattress and pillows, there’s no universal rule for everyone to follow. Whether you should opt for firm or soft, memory foam or pocket coil all depends on your personal preferences, particularly the position you sleep in.

Back SleepersSleeping on your back is often the sleep position recommended by doctors, since it allows the body to lay relatively straight.

However, that does not mean there is no pressure being put on your spine as you sleep.

You should have a mattress which is both able to support the spine -- and not allow the exaggeration of any curves -- but is also plush enough to not cause painful compression.

  • Opt for a medium to firm mattress
  • Memory foam is more ideal since conforms to natural curves while maintaining support
  • May substitute for a pocket coil with pillow top.

Side Sleepers: Sleeping on your side has its own benefits: It can help reduce acid reflux, reduces the pressure on the lungs, and promotes better blood circulation.

The main complaints of side-sleepers are achiness in the shoulder and hip area. The way to circumvent this is to ensure your mattress adequately cradles these parts.

  • Medium to soft mattress
  • Memory foam is ideal for reducing number of pressure points

Front Sleepers: Sleeping on your front is by far the worst for your health: Not only does it put pressure on your stomach, but the spine is the least supported in this position.

While it is recommended you switch sleeping positions, there are certain considerations when choosing a mattress that can help alleviate some of the negative side-effects.

Opt for a firmer mattressPocket-coil mattresses are a big no-no, as the entire front side of your body is exposed to the pressure points and they will not support your spine.

Bed Sharing

There’s no doubt that sharing beds can add to your difficulty getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s unlikely that both people with have identical wants and needs when it comes to their sleep position and mattress preferences; and when one partner is uncomfortable their tossing and turning can quickly cause problems for the other.

Upsize to a Queen: A Full-sized bed will leave you and your partner with only 27 inches of space -- which amounts to the size of a baby’s crib.

Opt for memory foam, or ditch your box spring: While memory foam is the optimal choice for reducing the transfer for movements, replacing your box spring with slats can serve as a quick fix.

Invest in a mattress designed for couples: The Sleep Number mattress let’s you and your partner select your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support so you don’t have to compromise.23

Colors

Research has shown that people who sleep in blue rooms tend to sleep longer than when compared to other colors. Blue toned walls can serve as yet another signal telling your brain it’s time to sleep.24

It’s important that your bedroom makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. It’s less important to follow a strict guide than to follow your own intuition.

Light

Light is one of the most powerful cues for your body’s internal clock, it’s thus important to ensure that you are exposing yourself to light and dark during the optimal times.

Try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible while you sleep by using black-out curtains.

However, lighting is not just important when you are sleeping. It’s recommended to dim the lights one hour before heading to bed to cue your brain it’s time for sleep.

For this reason it’s also best not to stare at bright screens (TVs, computers, and smartphones) during this time period, although many phones do offer a “night-mode” setting that can help.

In fact, the blue light -- in the 460-nanometer range -- emitted by electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs has been shown to delay the release of melatonin.25

Temperature

Generally speaking, the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5-19 degrees Celsius).

This, yet again, links back to the natural changes that occur as part of your circadian rhythms: your body temperature drops during the night, and thus maintaining a cooler room will help maintain this.

Setting your thermostat far below or above this ideal point can make it more difficult to fall asleep, lead restlessness and even affect the time you spend in REM sleep.26

The material of your mattress, pillows, bed linens and pajamas can significantly impact your temperature while sleeping. Look for fabrics that are breathable and won’t trap heat such as cotton; likewise choose pillows made of natural materials over synthetic.

As for mattresses, memory foam is the best option when it comes to temperature control.

Noise

Your brain continues to register noises while you sleep, which although unknown to you may be causing you to toss-and-turn or wake briefly.

It’s more likely for a noise to wake you up while in stages 1 and 2 of sleep, than while in 3 and 4. Additionally noise tends to cause more sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.

There’s also evidence that you’re more likely to respond to a sound while sleeping if it is emotionally significant to you: Such as when a mother hears her baby crying.27

If noises outside of your control are keeping you up at night, white noise can be used to “drown” them out. White noise works by reducing the difference between the ambient noise and a sudden, “peak” sound -- like a toilet being flushed -- lowering the chances your sleep will be disturbed.

There are many white noise generators you can purchase, and now there are even phone apps that can do the trick. However, a simple fan or air purifier may be sufficient to help you sleep through the night.

4. Meditation

Fifty percent of people who experience difficulty sleeping blame stress and worry for their troubles.

Meditation, in relieving feelings of stress and anxiety, and - over time - improving our overall response to stressful situations, has been proven to improve both the duration and quality of sleep, with the effect increasing with prolonged practice.

Researchers at the Stanford Medical Center conducted a pilot study to investigate the effectiveness of meditation in treating insomnia. 10

Following a six-week mindfulness meditation training program, 60% of the participants no longer fit the qualifications for the diagnosis - falling asleep twice as quickly as they had previously.

A 12-month follow-up revealed that the majority of the benefits were long lasting.28 Similarly, experienced meditators show enhancement in both REM and non-REM sleep; as well as experiencing fewer awakenings when transitioning between cycles. 11

Meditating at any time of day helps to reduce stress and improve sleep; however, incorporating meditation into your bedtime routine can be especially effective in preparing your body and mind for sleep.

5. Structuring Your Bedtime Routine

Sleep is a behavior: You can teach yourself to sleep well, but you can equally teach yourself to sleep poorly. Our habits surrounding our bedroom routines have a much more significant impact on the quality of our sleep than many of us believe.

Children often have bedtime routines to encourage the onset of sleep, but this is just as important for adults.

Our body needs time to adjust and cool down after a busy day: Just as sleep inertia affects our ability to feel alert after being abruptly roused from a nap we need to allow our body and mind time to transition into a state of relaxation and finally sleep.

When structuring your bedtime routine the main goal is to reinforce your natural circadian rhythms. By developing a scheduled routine of activities at bedtime we can form habits that promote sleep, while avoiding those that impede it.

General Guidelines:

  • Follow a scheduled pre-sleep routine
  • Avoid stimulating activities and all screens for 30-60 minutes before bedtime
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy
  • Get rid of your alarm cloc

Rituals

Maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule (even on weekends): While it may seem like a treat to sleep in way past your usual waking time on the weekends, altering your sleep-wake schedule for just one night is sufficient to cause disruptions in your circadian rhythms that will affect you for days following.

Choose a favorite relaxing activity to wind down: Close off your day with a period of relaxation by incorporating one of your favorite calming activities into your bedtime routine.

Choose what works for you -- while one person may find reading relaxing, if you aren’t a bookworm yourself this will be counterproductive.

Some suggestions include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Stretching (yoga)
  • Meditating

Prepare your room for sleep:

  • Dim the lights
  • Lower the temperature

Make your bed: A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that making your bed may be more than just a morning nuisance.

Those who reported they made their bed every morning had a 19% higher chance of getting a good night’s sleep than those who skipped this chore.

While the reason behind this is still unknown, researchers speculate that it’s related to feeling good about where you sleep.

Decluttering and maintaining a tidy bedroom can go a long way towards promoting better, more restful sleep.31

6. Tools And Resources

Nowadays there are many helpful tools to help you sleep better available at the click of a mouse -- or the swipe of a finger.

Sleep Cycle

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock will revolutionize the way you wake up. This innovative app actually tracks your sleep patterns, and uses this information to gently rouse you when you’re in a light stage of sleep -- preventing sleep inertia.

The app achieves this by monitoring your movements throughout the night, as these vary depending on what stage of sleep you’re in.

There are two modes: Either using your phone’s microphone which “hears” your movements, or the accelerometer, which is placed on your mattress to detect your movements throughout the night.

At only $0.99 on iTunes it’s a small price to pay for waking up feeling refreshed.

F.lux

F.lux began as a software which adapts the colors of your computer’s display for different times of the day: Not only optimizing your viewing experience, but reducing your exposure to blue light - which inhibits the release of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep.

While the app is still under construction, there are plenty of similar ones to choose from on iTunes and Google Play Store, so you can enjoy your devices in the evening without disrupting your sleep.

For iOS you can also use the built-in Nightshift mode to adjust white balance of your screen based on time of day.

White Noise

White Noise by TM Soft allows you to choose from a library of sound loops including beach waves, air conditioner and running water.

The app comes in three versions: Free, Full and Pro; with even the freebie coming with 40 sound loops as well as additional alarm sounds.

Whether you are looking for a way to drown out nighttime noise disturbances, or need a substitute for your favorite fan while traveling, White Noise’s variety will suit any preference.

Headspace

For those interested in experiencing how meditation can transform your sleep, Headspace is a great place to start.

With short guided meditations readily available on both desktop and mobile devices Headspace makes it easy to incorporate meditation into your bedtime routine.

You can try their Take 10 program for free, or choose from a variety of subscription options to get started today.

GoodnighT

While lying awake at night staring at your alarm clock waiting for sleep to come may make you feel powerless, there are a lot of concrete actions you can take to conquer your sleeping problems once and for all.

It’s not necessary to undergo a total life overhaul in order to enhance the quality of your sleep. Start by experimenting with the tips that are most appealing to you and see how they impact your sleep.

Keeping a journal can help you track what works and what doesn’t. Once you’ve felt the effects of a good night’s sleep you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

Originally posted on NestMaven.com.

An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to New Year's Resolutions

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

As we enter another new year, many of us have set our 2017 resolutions. Maybe you make resolutions, maybe not, but either way this is generally a time of reflection. In what ways do we hope this year will be different from last? What are we hoping to change in our lives? What goals do we have going forward?

 The new year always seems to be a good time to think about making some changes because it gives us the chance to start fresh in some ways. But in other ways it is simply just another day. Nothing changed automatically on January first. What can change is our perspective, and it is our job to ensure that our actions follow. This is the tough part. Do you find yourself already struggling to maintain your resolution? Do you wonder why we have such a hard time keeping our resolutions for more than a few weeks? How do we make our resolutions stick?

The truth is, change is often slow. Occasionally we are able to make huge changes immediately, but more often than not change takes time. New year's resolutions often fail to take into account that it may actually take you all year to create the change you were hoping to see on January second. When we fail to recognize all the small steps on the road toward change, we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure. A new year's resolution sounds like an easy solution: set a major goal for the new year ahead. But our resolutions are empty unless they are backed by action, and creating a resolution doesn't necessarily help us to make an action plan.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers some ideas and tools that can be very helpful in guiding us along the process of change. Whether you come in to see a therapist for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or whether you apply the wisdom it can offer to your life on your own, this model can help us to keep our resolutions all year long.

ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility, which means that you are able to connect to the present moment consciously and choose to behave in a manner as consistent with your values as the situation allows. Part of the purpose behind ACT is to get in touch with your personal values (not those determined for you by society, family, friends, or any other external source), and then use these values to guide your actions and formulate specific goals. This is usually what we are aiming for with our new year's resolutions.

For example, if my resolution is that I want to eat healthier, a good place to start is to examine my values. Do I feel like I "should" eat healthier because I feel pressured by our health conscious culture or by my friends, family or partner? Or do I want to eat healthier because I value my physical health, deep in my heart? Or perhaps I value my role as a model to my children, and want to eat healthier for this reason. Once I determine my values and make sure that my resolution is driven by my own intrinsic motivation, then I can create a concrete plan of action to move forward.

The Choice Point Model, another helpful ACT tool, offers us a framework to use when we face a decision. A choice point is a moment in time where we can choose to act in a manner that is either consistent or inconsistent with our values. The Choice Point is about identifying the hundreds of moments in a day where we can be on autopilot and be driven by thoughts and feelings, or we can make a conscious, deliberate choice that is in the service of our values. When in this moment, we can use the acronym STOP:

S: Slow down. Take 3 mindful breaths.

T: Take notice. What are you thinking and feeling?

O: Open up. Make room for those thoughts and feelings instead of trying to avoid the discomfort.

P: Pursue values. Do what matters to you.

Sometimes, in a Choice Point, we will choose to avoid or procrastinate acting in a values consistent manner, and that is okay. Give yourself grace when this happens. But remember that though avoidance may provide relief for the moment, in the long run it will make us feel worse. So if we can STOP and choose to act in accordance with our values as frequently as possible, it will serve us.

As you approach this new year and begin thinking about your potential resolutions, remember that big change happens slowly, choice point by choice point. Remember to consider your values, and to STOP when you hit a choice point. If you feel you need some extra support along the road to change or healing...

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Anxiety is a hot topic these days. It’s all over the news, and apparently it is on the rise. In the age of information and technology, we are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom news alerts, including reminders that on top of everything else, we are plagued with increasing anxiety. Eventually, these reminders can get exhausting and may even contribute to the anxiety that is apparently so prevalent in the first place.

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Of course, there are benefits to all this conversation around anxiety: we have a better understanding of what anxiety is and as a result we may be able to understand and empathize with those who are struggling better. But it’s important to be careful that we don’t pathologize all anxiety, and that we don’t lose sight of the strength that exists in those who truly do have anxiety disorders.

Anxiety: Natural Response to Stress or Disorder?

The way we talk about anxiety today, it is easy to believe that all anxiety is inherently bad and forget that it’s our natural response to threat or danger. We actually need anxiety to survive; it prepares our body to respond appropriately in the face of danger. However, our physiological experience of anxiety developed back when the regular dangers humans faced included running from large, sharp toothed predators. So when we are experiencing the fight-or-flight response before a big exam or presentation, it may not feel particularly adaptive. But despite the discomfort that comes with anxiety, it is natural when it is experienced as the result of a particular situation or problem, when it is proportional to the stressor, and when it only lasts until the situation is resolved (ULifeline, 2016). Anxiety, though often painful, is an important and adaptive part of the human experience.

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Though originally an adaptive response, anxiety does have the potential to be harmful when it manifests as “constant, chronic and unsubstantiated worry that causes significant distress, disturbs your social life and interferes with classes and work” (Active Minds, 2016). In other words, anxiety is no longer helpful when it begins to appear when there is no actual threat present. When a person experiences anxiety but has no threat to respond to, what happens? They begin avoiding situations that are actually safe. Their mind and body are telling them that safe situations are threatening, which can have a debilitating effect. When anxiety becomes disordered, it arises unexpectedly, is overwhelming, and, rather than catalyzing adaptive behavior in the face of a threat, often fosters avoidance of everyday situations (Here to Help, 2016).

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

So what is the takeaway? Anxiety is uncomfortable, but it helps us respond to threat, uncertainty, trouble, or feelings of unpreparedness (Active Minds, 2016). Anxiety becomes a problem (and possibly a disorder) when it comes seemingly out of nowhere and in the absence of a stressor proportional to the response, and it interferes with functioning in some way.

Recognizing Strengths as well as Struggles

There is no denying that feeling anxious is not pleasant. It can range from uncomfortable to unbearable. For those with anxiety disorders, anxiety is unpleasant on a whole new level; it can be completely overwhelming and paralyzing. It is hard to describe how out of control one can feel in the middle of a panic attack, or how draining it is to go through the day (week, month, or year) flooded with anxiety.

But in the midst of this struggle, it’s important to remember that anxiety doesn’t own you. It may be a part of you, and it may influence your life in various and profound ways. But anxiety does not determine who you are. A diagnosis does not define you. You are not a disorder. You are not weak, powerless, or alone.

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Acknowledging the pain anxiety can bring is so important, but it can also be helpful to recognize that struggling with anxiety may also foster certain strengths. According to Dr. Tracy Foose (2013), trait anxiety is associated with being “highly conscientious, honest, detail oriented, performance driven, socially responsible, [and] self-controlled.” Furthermore, learning to cope with anxiety can push us towards an increased self-awareness and knowledge of ourselves. Because it is so uncomfortable, it can motivate us to grow and change parts of ourselves or our lives that may not be serving us. And once we learn that we can move through the discomfort of anxiety, we often feel stronger and more confident in ourselves knowing that we have the fortitude to move through something so profoundly difficult (Sutherland, 2011).

Finally, if you do feel like anxiety is controlling your life, you don’t have to stay stuck in this space. Not only can anxiety teach you to embrace vulnerability and reach out for support from loved ones, but therapy offers very effective treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can teach valuable coping skills, and can help to change your relationship to anxiety. Nothing will ever take anxiety away completely, but we wouldn’t want that because without anxiety, we wouldn’t survive. But therapy can help us learn that even in the worst throws of anxiety, we will survive, and even thrive.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

Active Minds. (2016). NSOD: Difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder.  Retrieved from: http://www.activeminds.org/component/content/article/512-nsod-difference-between-normal-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Foose, T. (2013, Feb. 19). Positive traits seen in anxiety disorders. SF Gate. Retrieved from: http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Positive-traits-seen-in-anxiety-disorders-4291474.php

Here to Help. (2016). What’s the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder?  Retrieved from: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/ask-us/whats-the-difference-between-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Sutherland, M. (2011). The Benefits of Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://willowtreecounselling.ca/articles/the-benefits-of-anxiety/

ULifeline. (2016). Anxiety vs. anxiety disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.ulifeline.org/articles/439-anxiety-vs-anxiety-disorders